Tense, well-acted and visually fascinating, Blue Ruin is a quality drama.
Much of the credit goes to writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, who builds tension by making us wait for action, rather than by over-dosing on it.
Consider when Dwight (Macon Blair) first sees his parents’ killer, exiting prison and joining his family at a white, stretch limousine. From that moment, Saulnier slowly amplifies nervousness through a drawn-out drive, and then a walk through a bar’s back room.
Which brings me to my next point: there is much artistry in Saulnier’s camera angles and movements, as well as in his image frames.
In the aforementioned walk, for example, Saulnier mixes close-ups with point of view shots so skillfully that we feel Dwight’s anxiety, not to mention his ineptitude. Then comes Saulnier’s most genius image: a shot framed by the thin space between a bathroom stall’s door and its outer wall.
The director’s visual skill is equally strong throughout Blue Ruin.
Macon Blair matches his director. Dwight has withdrawn from the world, and Blair’s big-eyed expressions keep that fact always present. This man has forgotten how to behave around people. He is awkward but still sympathetic.
Unfortunately, Dwight is the only well-developed character in Saulnier’s screenplay, a fact that proves to be Blue Ruin’s biggest misstep.
We don’t see enough of Sam (Amy Hargreaves) to judge her characterization, but Ben Gaffney (Devin Ratray, excellent) is unexplainable. What about him makes him behave as he does?
As they are one-note stereotypes, the Cleland family is even less well-written. Saulnier would have been wise to layer them.
Poor characterization of secondary players hurts Blue Ruin in no less than two ways; it makes many of the characters unrelatable. And it also renders the plot overly coincidental.
Thematic relevance does much to save the picture, however. Saulnier simultaneously explores multiple lessons, ranging from the dangers of violence to the unjust ways our society forgets many of its citizens.
Blue Ruin, then, is well worth viewing, no matter its missteps.